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Aubameyang? Tielemans? One 'tactical' player each 'Big Six' club should sign to catch Man City

There are still two weeks remaining in the summer transfer window and although most well-run clubs really ought to have done their business by now, inevitably we will see a flurry of late action in the Premier League. That is always the case, especially at clubs who start badly in the league and begin to panic.

Manchester United are the most obvious example of that this season and their wild scattergun efforts to sign someone this month have made them a laughing stock. But they are far from the only 'Big Six' side still in the market for new players, and with Manchester City comfortably winning their first two Premier League matches of the season the chasing pack will know they must act.

With that in mind, here's an assessment of what the first two rounds of matches have taught us about the rest of the 'Big Six', and who they ought to be signing to plug the gaps:



Man Utd: A metronomic midfielder is urgently needed

The Frenkie de Jong saga highlights the absurdity of United's transfer strategy given that the Barcelona midfielder never wanted to join them, yet he was exactly the right profile of player they needed. Erik ten Hag requires a metronomic number six; an anchor at the base of midfield capable of beginning the build-up play, organising the press, and breaking up opposition counter-attacks.

The model for this position in the Premier League is Rodri or Fabinho, and frankly there are not many other players in the world who can do what they can – let alone ones who would be willing to join Manchester United at this time.

Napoli's Fabian Ruiz is the kind of player who would be willing to move, and there have been reports of United taking an interest in the 26-year-old. Ruiz is an exceptional ball-playing and press-evading midfielder with a similar profile to De Jong, and having succeeded in Serie A he is likely to be able to make the step up. Alternatively, Declan Rice remains an outstanding option whom Man Utd have inexplicably moved away from.



Liverpool: Klopp needs a box-to-box Thiago replacement

Thiago Alcantara's injury record, coupled with Crystal Palace's success in the transition on Monday night, are evidence that Jurgen Klopp badly needs a new midfielder with the engine to cover the wide areas while offering sharp vertical passing in the opposition half.

James Milner was frequently caught ahead of the play against Palace, allowing the visitors to counter-attack far too easily, while Fulham also managed to get behind the midfield line on numerous occasions. Harvey Elliot is a good attacking option but Liverpool are clearly short on energy and tenacity – and have been since Georginio Wijnaldum left the club.

One possible option is RB Leipzig's Konrad Laimer, who has an excellent mix of defensive and possession qualities, breaking up the play from within Leipzig's high-pressing system and playing a big part in progressing the ball through the lines. FBRef's measure of his statistics compared to all midfielders in the top five leagues in Europe has Laimer in the 99th percentile for pressures, 86th percentile for tackles, and 89th percentile for progressive carries.



Tottenham: Conte is still short of a top wing-back

Spurs were lucky to pick up a point against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge after Thomas Tuchel out-witted Antonio Conte, using a hybrid 3-5-2/4-2-2-2 to cause an overload on the right, where Reece James joined Ruben Lotus-Cheek. Ryan Sessegnon was overworked and struggled to cope, but just as important was his and Emerson Royal's inability to get forward before Conte switched to a 4-2-4.

Ivan Perisic, whose corner assisted the second equaliser, is to come into the team but Conte still needs a second elite wing-back if Tottenham are to really push for the title. Their manager's relatively low line of engagement, and the narrowness of the 3-4-2-1, piles pressure on the wing-backs to get up and down and provide all of the width.

Unfortunately Spurs have already missed out on two perfect players for this role, Filip Kostic and Jonathan Clauss, who moved to Juventus and Marseille respectively this summer. Clauss is likely to be on the market for a big move within 12 months, mind, and as a stop-gap Conte could add some attacking power on the right by signing Adama Traore on loan.



Chelsea: An on-the-shoulder striker would complete the picture

Chelsea's strong performances across the first two games of the 2022/23 Premier League season have shown many were too quick to write them off. This time last year they were expected to challenge Man City and Liverpool, and all that has changed since then is swapping Romelu Lukaku for Raheem Sterling – a good trade considering Thomas Tuchel likes to play with urgent verticality.

He could do with one more addition up front; someone who makes constant threatening runs on the shoulder of the last defender to offset all the clever movement between the lines from Kai Havertz and Mason Mount. This can slow Chelsea down too much and limit Tuchel's ability to play Germanic transition-based football.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a reported target and while he has not performed well over the last couple of years he could be a surprise hit at Stamford Bridge. Aubameyang, as a rotation option or impact substitute, should work well when Chelsea seek to break through midfield, acting as a more ruthless version of Timo Werner.



Arsenal: Xhaka replacement still needed

The most 'complete' team among the rest of the Big Five, in terms of where their squad needs to be to hit their targets, is Arsenal. All that remains is finding a more assertive ball-progressing central midfielder than Granit Xhaka to play alongside Martin Odegaard in one of the free eight positions, because at the moment Arsenal can still be slowed down by their former captain.

The most attractive option is Youri Tielemans, who with just one year left on his contract is likely to be available for around £25 million. His line-splitting passes from within his own half, and ability to play quickly on the half-turn, would fit in perfectly with the tactics that Mikel Arteta is implementing at the Emirates.



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Alex Keble
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